What’s Stopping Americans From Being More Eco-Friendly?

We’re at a critical moment in our history. 

According to the UK’s Met Office, the global mean temperature in 2022 was 1.16˚C higher than pre-industrial levels from 1850 to 1900. The United Nations (UN) attributes this rise to human-induced factors, including deforestation, burning fossil fuels, and livestock farming. These could increase temperatures by 1.5˚C more than pre-industrial levels in the next 5 years, destroying up to 90% of warm-water coral reefs and rising sea levels. The temperature rise would likely affect the lives of at least 3 billion people.

Global emissions must drop annually by 7.6% from now to 2030 to prevent this. The world has to act fast, though. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report revealed: “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

Fortunately, individual efforts can contribute to saving the environment. That’s why for Earth Day 2023, we asked over 200 people in America across various states and income levels about their eco-friendly habits. We found many are already taking the right steps to help the environment, but lack of awareness and the premium cost of green options deter most from doing more. Keep reading to check out our full report. 

The Little Things Matter

Small things matter when it comes to being eco-friendly. According to ENERGY STAR® — the US government’s program to promote energy efficiency — the country could “prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to emissions from 225,000 cars,” and “save more than 28 billion gallons of water per year” if Americans bought eco-friendly appliances in one year.

Our respondents said they take small but important steps to reduce their environmental impact. For example, 80.78% keep their lights off when not at home, 76.95% recycle, and 69.75% use reusable grocery bags. 

Nearly 40% also said they reduced their meat consumption to limit their carbon footprint. This is a significant step since 14.5% of human-induced emissions are attributed to the livestock sector.

Meat consumption harms the environment in many ways. Growing, feeding, and producing animals for human consumption requires a lot of water. This also causes deforestation as more land needs to be cleared for grazing pastures. Meanwhile, animal waste produces methane, which is more destructive and harmful to the atmosphere than CO2.

People are already taking small but important steps to curb climate change.

We Have Work to Do

More work needs to be done to prevent the full impact of climate change. Recycling efforts, for example, continue to fall short. The World Economic Forum reports the US has only recycled 5% to 6% of the 40 million tons of plastic it generated in 2021.

Recycling e-waste — the world’s fastest-growing source of waste — has proven problematic, too, with the US recycling only 15% of the 6.92 million tons of electronics discarded in 2019.

Awareness campaigns can be a great starting point for addressing climate change. That’s because not everyone affected by climate change is informed of how vulnerable they are to it. 

We found most of our respondents get their information on environmental issues from documentaries on TV and online. Among age groups, those aged 18 to 24 mainly watched documentaries online (58.06%), while those 65 and above group preferred watching TV (58.7%).

TV and online documentaries are our respondents’ main sources of information on environmental issues

Pro Tip: Access your favorite green documentaries while traveling with the best VPN for streaming.

Interestingly, most respondents find environmental awareness campaigns convincing (54.8%). However, a significant portion of individuals are left unconvinced by awareness campaigns (45.2%). This suggests institutions, advertisers, and marketers have work to do to better persuade people to go green, including the 36.3% who said their lack of awareness prevents them from taking more environmentally conscious steps.

Do you find environmental awareness campaigns convincing?

          • Yes – 54.8%
          • No – 45.2%

Earth Hour has also played an instrumental role in spreading environmental awareness since it launched globally in 2008, with over 185 countries participating in this annual event. Among our respondents, 66.55% said they would participate in this year’s Earth Hour — more than half of whom will do so for the first time.

Did you ever participate in Earth Hour and switch off the lights for an hour on March 25?

          • No, but I will this year – 41.64%
          • No, and I won’t this year either – 29.89% 
          • Yes, and I will this year as well – 24.91%
          • Yes, but I won’t this year – 3.56%

The majority of respondents also said the education system should teach children how to be more eco-conscious. According to the North American Association for Environmental Education, teachers share this sentiment. However, they said they don’t feel qualified to teach environmental education or receive the support they need to do this.

Should the education system teach children how to be more eco-conscious?

          • Yes – 86.48%
          • No – 13.52%

Respondents also feel politicians haven’t done enough on environmental issues, including 74.19% of those aged between 18 to 24. This lack of political support is especially apparent regarding environmental education

The US, for example, has the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law in 2015. While this gives states the option to offer environmental education, it doesn’t exactly encourage them to offer it.

On the other hand, the UK will start teaching natural history to young students in 2025. This is a step in the right direction, although it’s too early to tell what its long-term impact will be.

Do you think politicians have made progress on environmental issues?

          • No – 63.70%
          • Yes – 36.30%

We Want Eco-Friendly Options At the Right Price

While our respondents said more work is required to become environmentally conscious, they also expressed the willingness to choose an eco-friendly option if given one. For example, 78.72% said they’re willing to switch to an eco-friendly electricity provider, 34.4% consider buying a fully electric vehicle, and 74.47% already buy household appliances based on their environmental rating.

Financial freedom can deter some people from making eco-friendly choices, though. Most of our respondents cited financial reasons as a key barrier to making this happen. While 34.4% of respondents want to buy a fully electric vehicle, 17.38% found them too expensive.

The higher cost of green energy and vehicles deter some from choosing these options.

It’s worth noting nearly 60% of our respondents reported a household income below $75,000, with the majority earning less than the $70,784 median household income in the US in 2021. This might explain why some are hesitant to switch to eco-friendly options such as green energy sources and electric vehicles since these are more expensive.

It doesn’t help that the so-called green pricing, where people can choose to get electricity from clean and renewable energy sources, is more expensive than non-green sources. Electric vehicles also cost a lot more than their gas counterparts. 

While the US government offers up to $7,500 in federal tax credit for purchasing new electric vehicles, the average price of an electric car as of May 2022 was $64,300 or about $17,000 more than the average new car. This might also explain why 19.5% of respondents said they prefer hybrid or other sustainable options since people can find a hybrid vehicle within the $25,000 to $30,000 range. 

The future of transportation looks electric.

The Future Looks Bright and Green

We can find bright spots on the horizon even as we wrestle with the issue of climate change. Younger respondents reported greater awareness of their environmental impact — 70.97% for the 18 to 24 age group, 64.81% for the 25 to 34 group, and 55.77% for those in the 35 to 44 range.

Are you aware of your daily environmental impact?

          • 18–24 – Yes: 70.97%; No: 29.03%
          • 25–34 – Yes: 64.81%; No: 35.19%
          • 35–44 – Yes: 55.77%; No: 44.23%
          • 45–54 – Yes: 55.56%; No: 44.44%
          • 55–64 – Yes: 51.11%; No: 48.89%
          • 65+ – Yes: 51.11%; No: 48.89%

Overall, though, only 57.65% of all respondents said they were aware of their environmental impact. Meanwhile, 54.61% said a product’s environmental impact only sometimes contributes to their purchasing decisions. This raises many questions and suggests more work needs to be done regarding environmental awareness among all age groups.

When asked which generation is believed to have the lowest daily environmental impact, the Silent Generation — those born between 1928 and 1945 — got the most number of responses. 

Only 11.74% of respondents said the same for Gen X. This reflects studies where the majority of Gen Xers said they’re unsure of, haven’t given much thought to, or know little about global warming. They also live in larger homes, which tend to emit more greenhouse gasses (GHG). Meanwhile, Gen Z and Millennials came in second and third, respectively, which may bode well for the future.

Respondents think Gen Z has the second-lowest daily environmental impact next to The Silent Generation.

That’s not all. Other surveys have also shown Gen Z spearheading the drive to prioritize sustainability when making buying decisions, and being willing to pay more in the name of sustainability versus other age groups. 

What Else Can We Do to Fight Climate Change?

Governments and businesses must work together to promote a more sustainable lifestyle. The work doesn’t stop here, though, since individuals like us can contribute to saving the planet. Here are some steps you can take starting today.

Repair Instead of Replace, If Possible

Considering how much stuff we throw away without recycling, particularly e-waste, we might want to consider buying easier-to-repair products. This would reduce our need to replace them regularly, so we both save money and the environment.

Fairphone, for example, sells sustainable smartphones and spare parts, including the screen, battery, and camera to fix a faulty component of your unit. This approach is significantly more sustainable than throwing away the entire phone and buying a new one. Framework does the same for laptops.

You can also extend the life of some products when you buy them second-hand. Aside from being cheaper, it also lessens the amount of waste we produce. Interestingly, 57.3% of our respondents said they already shop second-hand.

Consider replacing something with a more eco-friendly option, if it exists. Switching to LED bulbs, for example, can help you save about $225 annually since LEDs consume up to 90% less energy, says the US Department of Energy. When replacing appliances, check for ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels, which indicate they’re more efficient.

Use Green Transportation

You don’t have to buy an electric vehicle to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling. In some instances you can ride a bike or take public transportation instead. 

Most of our respondents also said they would consider walking to a destination only 300 meters/985 feet away. Moreover, the University of California, Los Angeles, says using public transport can reduce CO2 emissions by 45% and saves 37 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Meanwhile, an additional 6 to 14 million metric tons of CO2 can be saved if more Americans rode bikes.

Be Mindful of What You Eat

What you eat, where it comes from, and how it’s produced all impact the environment. Red meat, for example, can be 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. How it’s transported can have an impact on GHG emissions, too.

Avoid Phantom Load

Some of your devices only go on standby mode when you turn them off, which means they still consume electricity. This is called phantom load, and could account for 10% of your monthly electricity bill. This doesn’t just hurt your wallet but the environment, too, especially if your energy source uses fossil fuels.

You can use smart plugs to avoid phantom loads. These cut off the plugged device’s electrical supply after a set time. Good-old power strips work great, too. It lets you turn each plugged device off or on to avoid powering anything you’re not currently using. Finally, you can simply unplug a device. Whatever option you choose, remember every bit helps.

Read Up and Spread the Word

It may take some time to fully integrate environmental education into many education systems. In the meantime, you can take a more active role in spreading the message about the subject. Check out authority websites and other reliable sources for information on how you can help reduce your carbon footprint, join environmental organizations, and share what you know with your family and friends.

We Have Time, But It’s Running Out Fast

It will take a lot of money, and collective and individual efforts, to slow down and reverse the impact of climate change. And the window to do this is closing rapidly. All is not lost, though, as we have seen in our survey

Many are already taking conscious steps to minimize their harm to the planet. The younger generations offer hope as they now take a more active role in combating this issue. They have expressed their desire to pay a premium for more eco-friendly options, are willing to spread awareness among their peers, and demand their governments act swiftly and decisively on climate change. 

It’s time we seriously look after our planet, and younger generations might just help us do it.

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